I roleplay, and I game. These are verbs, yes, which tell you what I do, but they also tell you something about who I am. I’m a revenge-bent former agent of the Imperial Security Bureau. I’m a six-foot-two redhead with a wraith for a father. I’m an Argonian Dragonborn who specializes in sneaking and necromancy. Beyond that, I am someone who experiments with gender, race, class, sexuality, and history; if I’m going to play a bisexual Cajun card sharp fighting with the French in WWII, I’d better darn well know how to do so.
I lore binge. I lore binge constantly. I have gradually been accumulating a mental account of the entire Elder Scrolls universe, from the 36 Lessons of Vivec, to Anu birthing its own soul into Anuiel—which birthed itself in turn into Auri-El (aka Akatosh)—to theories on the Dwemer (I think I may have conclusively solved where they disappeared to). And despite this breadth and depth of knowledge, I have only played The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim; I gained this knowledge by researching wikis.
Similarly, I history binge. Do you need a timeline of the major events that occurred in Athens from 1941 until the present day? I made one, because if I’m going to GM a game where my players are vampires, they’re going to get to make use of that immortality feature. And kill Nazis to boot. I have simultaneous notes on the changes in real-world politics as they relate to and are influenced by Kindred politics, because even if Athens was declared a neutral zone, you can bet that an underground vampire society is going to be keeping their options open.
And I life binge. Hours researching signs, symptoms, and mindsets gave me insight that I used to portray my character Lily; in particular, I drew on the knowledge I gained from a book whose protagonist was similarly dealing with anorexia. And when I realized that, even before playing Lily, I could slip into that mindset so easily? That scared me. It wasn’t having those thoughts that shocked me; it was that I’d been having those thoughts for years, never realizing what they could lead to.
I have played a masculine agender person, dealing with questions about their identity and the presentation of their gender. Through Owen, I was able to deal with my own questions of gender identity, and come to terms with the knowledge that it’s okay to lie somewhere along a spectrum rather than on a point at one end. I have played many people of different sexualities, examining the differences between their attraction and my own, as my demisexuality influences how I interpret media almost daily; I’m still working on how the trope of “angry sex” works. I have been hesitant to play people of other races and ethnicities, but I have attempted to immerse myself in the study of their cultures so that, when I am comfortable enough exploring those experiences, I can do so from a place of utmost respect. As it stands, it is much easier to face discrimination as an Argonian in Skyrim than as a black person in modern America.
The most intriguing position to play, in my opinion, is that of the villain. I have yet to work up to evil in a video game (I can’t help but personify the NPCs as real people when I’m immersed), but I am trying to understand the actions that cause a descent into evil through roleplaying. Outright evil is easy; just chop off a bartender’s finger to make yourself feel better. But the more justification evil has, the more difficult it is to play. Say you’re trying to prevent the Tragedy of the Commons; you must kill the cows of the farmers around you to prevent overgrazing of the land. You are causing harm to both the farmers and the cows, removing a vital source of income and committing animal cruelty, but in doing so, you achieve a greater of good of sustaining the land for future generations of farmers. Though the act is evil, do the ends justify it? Then take it a step further. When do the ends no longer justify the means? At what point does fighting for the greater good make you into a villain? Is it when the cause for which you fight becomes little more than a pipe dream? Is it when the ratio of benefit to deficit drops too low? It is as the philosophers debate: do you kill one man to save a thousand? Do you kill 99 to save 100?
And furthermore, did Rapture fall because Objectivism is flawed, or because Andrew Ryan failed to follow Objectivism’s tenets to the end?
I digress. The point is that roleplaying and playing video games both provide insight that can help you come to terms with who you are, and with who other people are. You experience what they experience, you learn what they know, and—in your own way—you teach. You examine the questions of life as they pertain to both the concrete and the abstract. The act becomes part of the person, and in coming to understand positions different from your own, you sometimes learn that you are not so different as you first assumed.